LINCOLN, Neb. (CN) – A truck driver says he spent 5 years in prison on bogus charges of aiding and abetting a murder he had nothing to do with, after a deputy sheriff, “pretending to be plaintiff’s ‘therapist,” told him that he was “repressing memories of the murder.” James Dean says DNA evidence cleared him after he did his time.
Dean sued Gage County, its Sheriff’s Office, the County Attorney, the Sheriff and six deputies, one of whom holds a Ph.D. in psychology.
The case involves the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson, 68. Four years later, police arrested Dean and five others on little evidence other than inconsistent testimonies, Dean, a father of two, claims in a Federal Court.
FBI agents had determined in 1985 that the murder “was committed by one individual acting alone,” but Gage County charged six people on the basis of testimony from one woman who was known “to be of low intelligence, with emotional problems,” according to the complaint.
The woman said that she and three others were involved in the murder, then added Dean to the list the next day, Dean says. She claimed that Dean wanted to steal money from Walker’s home, though “it had been determined that there was over $1,000 in cash in the apartment of Helen Walker, which was easy to find and never taken,” the complaint states.
Dean’s attorney describes him as in the “low range to borderline range of intellectual function,” with “emotional disabilities.” He was not an original suspect in the case and he knew nothing about it when he was arrested, the attorney says.
According to the complaint:
Dean submitted a blood sample that did not match the blood on the scene. He took a polygraph test, and a psychologist who worked as a sheriff’s deputy told him that his “results revealed, at a subconscious level, his involvement in Wilson’s homicide,” and that “he was ‘repressing’ his memories of the murder.” Dean says investigators used videos of the murder scene to persuade him that he had been there and had taken part in the crime. He says officials told him that if he did not accept a plea bargain he would be “prosecuted for first degree murder and could be sentenced to execution.”
Dean says he pleaded guilty to “aiding and abetting second degree murder … despite the fact that he did not remember and had no knowledge of the crime.”
He says officials persuaded him to submit false testimony against another suspect, and rewarded him by reducing his sentence. Dean says he spent more than 5 years in state prison, while others spent up to 18 years in prison.
In 2005, DNA test exonerated the six “accomplices,” and produced evidence against a single assailant, who was unrelated to the group, the complaints states.
Dean seeks punitive damages and lost wages. He is represented by Herbert Friedman.